In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I wanted to reflect on what I am most grateful for as a current doctoral student. I can go on and on about how fortunate I am to have an adviser like the one I have. Too often, I hear horror stories about advisers who are unsupportive, unreasonable and simply unwilling to put their own research agendas aside for a moment to help their students find their own voice. Of course, there are different factors that may contribute to this — do they have tenure? Are they valued at their institution? How were they mentored? Are they aware of the relationship or lack thereof that they have with their advisees? — I still think it all boils down to what do they, as individuals, prioritize? Can you have both an advisee that feels very supported and a successful career as an academic?
My adviser, Dr. Marybeth Gasman, has been nothing but supportive of my research interests and professional development as a scholar. However, I do not feel special. She treats all her students that way, and because of that, I feel that she has created a community of kind, generous scholars that are willing to help support students thrive in an intimidating field like the academy.
I was made aware of this during my time at this year’s annual conference for the Association of Higher Education (ASHE). As a graduate student, I presented with one of her former advisees. I also had another session with a colleague that has worked with her and we presented at the same session of another one of her former Ph.D. students who began his career as an assistant professor this fall. Throughout the weekend, I reconnected with two of her other former advisees, both of whom were more than willing to hear about my current work and offer their assistance. These scholars all introduced me to colleagues they work closely with, and they too welcomed me to contact them for advice on my research.
The highlight of my time at ASHE was meeting Dr. John Thelin, who was my adviser’s adviser. While in line to purchase his most recent book, he saw that I was at Penn and asked who I was working with. When I told him that I was working with Marybeth Gasman, he remarked: “Don’t shake my hand, give me a hug!” He was immediately drawn to my story and began asking me about my background and interests. He reassured me that I was being taken care of and that Marybeth was one of the kindest students he had the pleasure of working with. He proceeded to give me homework to learn about other people from the Bronx who made significant impact to their communities and encouraged me to be one of them, working within the field of higher education.
All these interactions with people who were connected in some way to my adviser called my attention to how her mentorship extends beyond just my one-on-one interactions with her. Whether it’s Dr. Thai-Huy Nguyen reminding me that he is there to give me feedback on my papers whenever I need him to, or Dr. Casey Boland who reassured me that the mentorship never ends and how grateful he is of the ongoing support he gets from our adviser. Dr. Felecia Commodore who acknowledges that the nervousness will linger but bolsters the preparation we receive and the work ethic our adviser instills in us, or Andrés Castro Samayoa who encourages me frequently to do my best work and to lean on him whenever I need support, it is clear to me that the support we all have received from our adviser has established an ethos in us to share that support among each other and to others. Her mentorship is truly one that keeps on giving and I am thankful to be connected to such generous and supportive colleagues.
Andrew Martinez is a Ph.D. student at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education and research associate at the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions. His column appears in Diverse every other week. You can follow him on Twitter @Drewtle